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Source: http://rt.com/news/171188-russian-hacker-kidnapped-america/

The US has a record of taking drastic steps when it wants people held in custody. The methods may vary from the widely-criticized practice of “extraordinary rendition,” or the blatant kidnappings of terror suspects during the Bush era, to putting pressure on foreign governments to allow American agents a free hand on their soil.

What would you refer to held in custody as? Can it be thought of as an adverbial construction that describes how the US wants people? The answer, I suppose, could be: it wants them held in custody.

Could you please give me some more examples of this pattern?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Held in custody here is not a modifier at all, neither an adjectival nor an adverbial. It is the predicate of a passive infinitive clause which has been ‘reduced’ by omitting the infinitive to be.

That has a lot of technical terms you may not be familiar with, so let’s look at how the clause “It wants people held in custody” is built, step by step.

First: the head clause here is

... it wants X.

X, the Direct Object or ‘object complement’—what it wants—may be represented by an independent clause in the passive voice:

People are held in custody.

In this particular context, want ‘licenses’ (permits) two ways of ‘complementizing’ this clause—turning it into a form which can act as an object complement of the verb want. You must turn it into an infinitive clause with a verb cast into the marked infinitive form, but the clause may or may not be headed with the ‘complementizer’ (traditionally called a ‘subordinating conjunction’) for:

... people to be held in custody OR
... for people to be held in custody

In this case, the author has selected the infinitive clause without for (the for form is actually pretty rare with want):

... people to be held in custody ...

The final step is ‘reducing’ the clause. In this subordinate clause the to be piece may be omitted from to be VERBed

... people held in custody...

This is married to the head clause as X, the Direct Object:

... it wants people held in custody ...

And now that is integrated into the sentence as a when clause:

... when it wants people held in custody.

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That was beautiful, man. Can you clarify something please?: You say that "[to be] held in custody" is not adjectival, and I think you are right because it contains the "to be" (even if that is sometimes invisible), but the "held in custody" by itself, without the "to be", is adjectival, right? – Dangph Jul 8 '14 at 22:55
@Dangph It can be adjectival--for instance, in "The Obama administration wants people held in custody at Guantanamo to be tried in the United States." There the complement of wants is "people to be tried" and held in custody in Guantanamo is an adjectival participle phrase modifying people. (But many linguists would say that what I call a participle phrase is actually a 'reduced' relative clause; that is, that people held in custody reduced from people who are held in custody.) – StoneyB Jul 8 '14 at 23:13

In this context, "held in custody" means "arrested and imprisoned." Possibly for "shipment" to the United States.

This is being done "outside the law." So the "arrest" is actually a kidnapping, and the "prison" may be a "safe house" maintained by the agents, as opposed to a real prison.

"Shipment" may be on a special boat or airplane, outside of normal travel channels.

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This really isn't answering the question, which is about the grammatical structure. – Hellion Jul 8 '14 at 15:24

You're right about "in custody" acting like an adverb of "held". Here are a few other examples...

I like my computer's operating system running smoothly. I want all my steaks cooked medium rare. All of these new houses needed to be built stronger.

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